PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra: I welcome the opportunity to debate this motion put forward by the member for Throsby. The essence of this motion is that the federal government should prioritise urban rail projects, three in particular in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide, above its traditional infrastructure responsibilities for major roads, highways, airports, bridges and national rail networks.
The motion does not explicitly say that. In some respects, it is a typical Labor motion which suggests that we spend billions more on particular projects, as though the budget is a magic pudding and the only constraint on the magic pudding is a lack of good projects to spend money on. But Australians are smarter than the average Labor member. They know that the budget is not a magic pudding. They know that if you are going to spend billions of dollars on one type of asset—as this motion suggests—you cannot spend it on another. This motion is really about priorities for our scarce infrastructure dollars. There is no lack of projects to spend our infrastructure dollars on. We need more urban rail projects completed, including the Rowville Rail project in Melbourne. We need more ports. We need better water infrastructure. We need better airports, including a second airport for Sydney. And we need better roads, including the East West Link in my hometown of Melbourne.
All of these infrastructure projects are necessary to meet the needs of today and the future. Infrastructure Australia estimates the nation’s construction shortfall at about $200 billion. Deutsche Bank prices it at about $800 billion. But despite the magic pudding economics that Labor propagates and that it tried to implement over the last six years, the simple fact is that we cannot do it all at once. So the question that this motion asks is: what should the federal government prioritise? If it is funding the Brisbane Cross River Rail project, it is not funding something else, by definition. It is not funding the East West Link in Melbourne. It is not funding the second airport at Sydney or other major infrastructure items.
I would like to make four points in relation to this question I put. The first is that the federal government should be in the business of prioritising economic infrastructure—that is, infrastructure that is going to help make the economy more productive. That is why the federal government is going to implement and invest money in a range of national road projects across the country. That includes $1.5 billion to get Melbourne’s East West Link underway. It includes $1½ billion to get Sydney’s WestConnex projects underway. It includes $1 billion for the Gateway Motorway in Brisbane, $615 million to build the Swan Valley bypass in Perth, $400 million to upgrade the Midland Highway in Tasmania and $500 million to begin a full upgrade of South Road, aiming to achieve the complete upgrade within a decade.
We will build these projects in consultation with the state government and we will do so efficiently, quickly and with input from the private sector. In addition, we will invest record amounts in major regional roads such as the Bruce and Pacific Highways as well as our regional bridges program, Roads to Recovery, the black spots programs and other programs. This is an ambitious infrastructure agenda, which will be undertaken by a new Prime Minister who wants to be known as an infrastructure Prime Minister and will be known as an infrastructure Prime Minister. If we build economic infrastructure, which we will, then the economy can grow more rapidly, businesses can thrive; they can be more productive, which means jobs can be created, wealth can be created and, importantly, families can spend less time in traffic and more time at home. Infrastructure Australia has been tasked with advising us on the priority lists to determine which ones make sense going forward on the basis of rigorous assessments. And Infrastructure Australia will have the ability to assess public transport projects should it choose to do so.
This approach of focusing on economic infrastructure is in stark contrast to the previous six years, under the Labor administration. Under Labor, of course, we saw pink batts prioritised over roads, green loans prioritised over bridges, and overpriced school halls instead of national rail. It was an administration where billions of dollars were wasted and where the government took on mountains of debt, but we have so little to show for it. Each of us in our own electorates or in our own home cities can look across our city and think: where is the economic infrastructure that this Labor administration built? They put so much debt on the nation’s credit card but have so little to show for it. The Business Council of Australia estimated that only 14 per cent of Labor’s multibillion-dollar stimulus package was actually put towards enhancing economic infrastructure—only 14 per cent.
The second point I would like to make is that there is a massive backlog of infrastructure projects that are squarely within the federal government’s domain. So it makes little sense for the federal government to take on projects that are the responsibility of state or local governments. We have our hands full with infrastructure projects, and thanks to what we inherited from the Labor government there is very little money in the bank; there is very little financial room to move. Let’s focus on our job and ask the states and local governments to focus on theirs. If we were rolling in money it might be different. But clearly we are not.
The third point is that we have the capacity to build a lot more infrastructure in this nation, with the pool of money that we have available, if we can get costs down. We have become an extremely high-cost country for developing infrastructure. The Business Council of Australia, estimates that the cost of resource projects is 40 per cent higher in Australian than in America. The cost to build a new school is 26 per cent higher than in America. Airports cost 90 per cent more. We have to get the cost of building infrastructure down, and we have asked the Productivity Commission to look into this and to advise us on mechanisms for doing so.
Finally, let me say something about one of the biggest infrastructure projects that is planned for Australia: the East West Link in Melbourne. This is a tremendously exciting project that each coalition member in the state of Victoria campaigned on. It will finally connect the Eastern Freeway to the west of Melbourne, and in doing so will complete Melbourne’s ring-road. It is rated as the number one infrastructure project by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. Residents in my electorate are excited by it, not only because it will assist in dealing with the Hoddle Street bottleneck but also because it will take pressure off the Monash Freeway, which is so busy with morning peak-hour traffic. We are strongly in favour of this particular project. I know the state government is strongly in favour of this project, and even the union movement is in favour of this project. But, sadly, the Labor party is not. Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not like to reflect on you while you are in the chair, but the member for McEwen has referred to it as an appalling project. We do not think that. My constituents do not think it is an appalling project. We think it is an outstanding project which is long overdue, and we would like to have bipartisan commitment for it.
We welcome this motion from the member for Throsby, as I said at the outset. But the budget is not a magic pudding. Labor thought it was, and for six years they spent and spent on projects which have not added to our economic infrastructure in Australia. They spend it on pink batts, on green loans and on over-priced school halls. We need to get back to building the economic infrastructure which will help enhance our economy.